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5 Questions: Boston Bruins

Improvement needed from goaltender Tuukka Rask, defense to reach playoffs

by Amalie Benjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Boston Bruins:

 
Can the defense improve enough to get the Bruins back to the playoffs?

Zdeno Chara is 39, Dennis Seidenberg signed with the New York Islanders, there is no young defenseman to replace Dougie Hamilton (traded to the Calgary Flames on June 26, 2015), and concerns remain about the progress of Colin Miller and Joe Morrow. Boston should have enough scoring after ranking fifth in the NHL in goals last season (2.88 per game), but the Bruins need to improve in their own end after allowing 2.78 per game (20th).

 

Can Tuukka Rask regain his Vezina Trophy form?

The goaltender's numbers were down across the board last season (2.56 goals against average, .915 save percentage, compared with NHL career numbers of 2.24 and .924), though that was partially because of the defense in front of him. Rask will need that group to play better, but he'll also be relied on to up his own game. He should be helped by the addition of Anton Khudobin as a reliable backup.

Video: CAR@BOS: Rask holds firm to deny consecutive shots

 

How will David Backes fit in?

After spending the first 10 seasons of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues, the former Blues captain signed a five-year, $30 million contract (average annual value $6 million) on July 1 to come to Boston. He essentially took the money the Bruins opted not to spend on forward Loui Eriksson, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Backes, who had 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) last season, could fill a useful role on the ice and be a needed voice in the locker room, but the transition figures to take some time. There is also the question of whether Backes will continue to play center on a center-heavy team or make the transition to right wing.

 

Which young players will make an impact?

Ryan Spooner, Colin Miller and Danton Heinen have the potential to make sizeable contributions. Spooner, 24, had 18 points in a 20-game stretch late in 2014-15 playing with Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak, then had 13 goals and 49 points in 80 games last season. But Spooner needs to shore up his work in the defensive zone in order to solidify the third-line center spot. Miller, 23, played 42 games for Boston last season and showed he can fill a top-four role on defense, but he needs more consistency. Heinen, 21, proved he can score at the NCAA level and impressed in training camp. He will be a part of the Bruins' future, but is he a part of their present?

 

What does the future look like for coach Claude Julien?

It was not a given that Julien, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL (ninth season), would return after the Bruins missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. General manager Don Sweeney took some time to ponder the decision before announcing on June 5 that Julien would be back. But that doesn't mean Julien won't be on the hot seat, with management watching closely how the season starts.

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